The last time I was in Central Park, I was soaked right down to my underwear.
It was during the Homecoming NYC concert, a boon produced by Clive-Davis to celebrate the post-Covid return to normalcy whose line-up included Bruce Springsteen and Paul Simon. Hours later, the entire shebang was canceled due to “bad weather,” a candidate for understatement of the century.
The night set a record for rain in New York City, which was broken less than two weeks later amid historic flooding.
Perhaps it was a twist of cosmic fate that the next time Central Park hosted a music festival came on Saturday with Global Citizen Live, an annual event hosted by the eponymous advocacy organization that seeks to fight and eradicate climate change as well as almost every other problem in the world.
Global Citizen Live is a curious mix of pop music and outreach, where talk about our changing planet, poverty and vaccinations are medicine and moments like Jennifer Lopez releasing Ja Rule for I’m Real are spoonfuls of sugar.
It seems to have become a cultural law: if there is a major event, be it the Super Bowl or the fall of the New Year’s ball, Lopez must carry out. On Saturday, she created a ballad, On My Way, and hinted at her relationship with Ben Affleck with a mix of love songs introduced with a wink.
Billie Eilish also performed, marching to the loudest cheers of the night. Here is an artist known for her inventive show, not for her eloquence.
“I’m not sure what I’m supposed to say,” she muttered in a rambling speech on “serious stuff.” We also don’t know what you’re supposed to say, Billie. But to her credit, in the middle of a song, she managed to make a major announcement.
“It smells like shit in here,” she reported, adding, in case we thought we misheard, “I mean, a real doo-doo. “
Shawn Mendes and Camilla Cabello performed solo sets, although Mendes stepped out first to sing their 2019 duet, Senorita. In case it wasn’t clear that the two pop icons were deeply in love, they kissed not once but twice.
Global Citizen Live is all about juxtaposition. A crowd of revelers watch speeches on the end of the pandemic. Plastic bands are given out for the sole purpose of lighting during Coldplay’s set – but it should be noted that the bands are made from recycled plastic. Rapper Meek Mill comes with some air horns, but shares the bill with the funny comments from a Verizon executive.
Such cognitive dissonance was fully visible when Prince Harry and Meghan Markle made a surprise appearance. They spoke about vaccine equality, noting Markle: “Every person on this planet has the basic right to receive this vaccine. Through no fault of theirs, the greatest joy came when Harry simply said two words: “My wife.” “
It was a show that also reflected a growing interest in social issues, arguably a replica of the explosion of social and political activism in 2020. The first Global Citizen Live took place in 2012 but the concert eventually caught up with Culture. It’s no longer cool not to care.
Delivering a charismatic performance, the audience feeding on her hand, Lizzo noted that Central Park stood on land that once housed a black community, Seneca Village, which has been cleansed. Mendes and Cabello brought in guest speakers, the two stepped aside for Alok, a gender nonconforming artist, and Fanta Ballo, from Harlem, who recited a poem while Mendes was on stage. Both were emotional moments, the highlights of the concerts may not have been possible in previous years.
And as night fell, with the plastic bands of Coldplay lighting up the Great Lawn and the six o’clock festivities seeming to end, audiences were treated to one final surprise.
Paul Simon took the stage, performing a moving rendition of The Sound of Silence. It was a fitting ending, knotting the loose ends.
This time, getting out of Central Park was a dry, calm affair, although if we were to learn anything from the speakers, we shouldn’t take the good weather for granted.
Lizzo summed up the yin and yang of it all.
“They want me to tell you all about climate change,” she said. “But I feel like I don’t have to talk to you. We can see it.